How to be Spiritual: Moods and Dispositions

Reflections from Dr. Howell

What is the spiritual life? What are evidences that it’s dawning? It’s not sweetness, or even calm. If you’re well attuned to God, you’ll be uneasy and even appalled by much of what goes on in God’s world. The more you’re tethered to God, you’ll have a balanced, strong core, maybe the way a Segway won’t fall over. Some internal gyroscope keeps you pointed toward God and others, not toppled by circumstance.

We’ve spoken of the baseline disposition of gratitude, the skeletal structure of the spiritual life. It’s a choice, not a mood. You choose, over and over, to approach life with gratitude. You learn to lop off the “for.” You aren’t grateful for this or that. You simply are a grateful person; you grow gratitude within. Check yourself: am I more and more grateful instead of resentful, grateful instead of annoyed, grateful instead of fixating on what is lacking in my realm?

There are warning flares that your spirituality is out of kilter: little glimmers or big eruptions of anger, judging others, feeling moody, or any sense of entitlement; assumptions you know better than others, clinging to hurts or grudges (which only devour you!), or what Paul said love isn’t: irritable, rude, resentful, rude, insisting on your own way, arrogance (1 Corinthians 13:4). Someone said pride is concerned with who is right; humility is concerned with what is right.

The most vicious foe of spiritual balance may be comparing ourselves to others. Hard not to, as we’re taught that school, work and life are competitive sports. Why am I not as happy as everybody on Facebook? Why isn’t my marriage as heady as theirs? Why do they always look so healthy and cool? Do you hear the mercy in Thou shalt not covet?

By God’s grace, you don’t need to covet. It takes much quiet, prayer, and strong doses of God’s mercy to learn that you are enough, you have enough, your world just is your world, and isn’t shrunken or inadequate because it’s not somebody else’s world. A while back, quoted Merton: “When you accept what you have, you see all you have received is more than enough and you are overwhelmed.” I left off the rest of his thought: “I desire other things because I fear to be content with what I have. I fear it is inglorious.” I fear embarrassment. I fear not measuring up to somebody else. But with God, there is no embarrassment. Only God’s goodness and mercy are the true measure.

Again, the spiritual life is letting go. Open your fearful fists, clinging to your bits of anger, your judgment of others, your moods, what you are sure you deserve, your impatience, your itch to be like or better than others.

The second baseline of the spiritual life is humility. Not being humiliated, but humble. You defer to others, always. You are curious. As C.S. Lewis put it, “Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.” You aren’t the center of the universe, thanks be to God.

How exhausting is society’s pressure for you to think, first, last and always, about me? How many “likes” have I gotten? Narcissus admired his beautiful reflection, but wound up lonely and stuck. Only one “like” matters, and you already have it – from God. You are secure in God, so no need to be reassured by others; no need to prove yourself. You live in God’s love. And then you like, and reassure others.

Ads prod me with what I “deserve.” How liberating and energizing is it for the spiritual person to chuckle and recognize how lucky, how blessed she is, how all we have is a precious, undeserved gift, how dependent we are on others and on God.

   Try this: Check your moods today. Any time you compare yourself to others, breathe in and then breathe out that feeling. Try to avoid 1st person pronouns (I, me, my) in your words and thoughts.